USAG MIAMI, Fla. Aca,!" There is an enemy threatening our armed forces.

This enemy is the leading cause or contributing factor in divorce nation-wide, eclipsing infidelity. This enemy is a stressor that can affect every facet of a service member's life and health.

That enemy is financial instability; getting it under control has become a serious issue for Army leadership.

"When Soldiers are distracted by personal problems, financial or otherwise, it diminishes their quality of life and their ability to focus on the mission at hand; and impacts overall unit readiness," said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli in a recent "VCSA Sends." "As leaders we must always remember our primary responsibility to take care of Soldiers and their Families."

U.S. Army Garrison - Miami is tasked with supporting the U.S. Southern Command, a joint regional unified command responsible for overseeing U.S. military operations in an area of focus that includes the Caribbean, Central and South America. While SOUTHCOM efforts are focused outside the United States, the nation is in an economic downturn. This downturn is impacting servicemembers and Families across the Armed Forces.

Financial readiness is critical to the overall well-being of the force. It affects individual and Family readiness and the ability to meet current and future personal and family needs, said Richard Zimmelman, garrison financial advisor.

Losing the financial readiness battle can mean loss of a security clearance, harassment from debt collectors, liens, lawsuits, anxiety, marital distress, loss of credit and credibility.

"So much of our experiences are predicated upon how well we are prepared to meet life's challenges," he said. "When individuals and families feel 'in control' of their finances, they are prepared to meet other challenges and have that much greater peace-of-mind."

That ability can be learned, like any other skill, Zimmelman said. To meet these challenges, the garrison offers a variety of personal training classes that fit most peoples' schedules.

"We have introductory classes such as 'First Term Finance', 'Budgeting 101', and 'Investing Basics' as well as more advanced classes such as 'Estate Planning', 'Choosing the Right Insurance for every Stage of Life' and 'Planning for the Higher Costs of Higher Education,'" he said.

In starting these classes, the garrison is taking point on the problem, and is calling on local experts to fill out a highly capable fire team.

"We are lucky to have large numbers of Financial Planning Association members in Miami-Dade County willing to teach our classes pro-bono," Zimmelman said.

The individuals teaching the classes either hold an Accredited Financial Counselor or the Certified Financial Planner designation.

"Many also hold the CPA and/or CFA designation and several are Accredited Investment Advisors - though they will not provide investment advice," he said.

Zimmelman himself is an Accredited Financial Counselor, and provides individual counseling on a broad range of personal finance topics including budgeting, development of spending plans, debt reduction, thrift savings plan, planning for transition, and consumer advocacy.

"We can't possibly understand at age 18, what we will understand at age 45," he said. "Personal financial knowledge and application is developmental, and we don't 'get it' all at once, rather we pick it up in bits and pieces along the way."

As servicemembers learn financial readiness, they acquire greater confidence, skills, and obtain greater results. This is shown through well-funded emergency savings, credit scores, and well-managed debt or debt-free lifestyles. Financial Readiness helps servicemembers and families make the best decisions along the way that support their personal finances now and in the future.

"Suze Orman advises listeners to 'live below your means,' probably the best single bit of advice for anyone," Zimmelman said. "This means committing to spending less than we earn, not just now - but always."

"Unfortunately, some Soldiers may be hesitant to ask for help, even though they may be under a tremendous amount of stress," said General Chiarelli.

One area that is of particular concern is the housing situation, Chiarelli said. Miami has been hit harder than many areas of the country by foreclosure. Recently, there has been an increase in servicemembers who as renters, are affected by the foreclosure of their landlord. Others are unable to sell or rent their homes when they PCS from Southern Command.

As point man in the fight for financial readiness here, Zimmelman has seen these scenarios repeatedly, from senior noncommissioned officers and field-grade officers through mid-grade NCOs. DoD has responded, and the garrison has implemented Joint Federal Travel Regulation changes providing paid local moves for renters whose landlords are facing foreclosure.

"This is a tremendous relief for those who are affected," Zimmelman said.

For servicemembers underwater on their mortgages and facing PCS, the expansion of the Housing Assistance Program will provide some much-needed support, Zimmelman said. Servicemembers who think they may be affected are strongly advised to submit their applications at the website, found at http://hap.usace.army.mil/.

Besides taking the time to attend a Financial Readiness class, Zimmelman advises all members of the Armed Forces to follow some simple rules. If you haven't recently written your monthly household budget, please consider doing so.

"Write down your monthly income and subtract your monthly expenses," he said. "Then make a plan to do something with the surplus. Use it to save more, pay down debt, or put it in the Thrift Savings Plan and get the additional tax break," he added. Regardless of your wealth, this little exercise can benefit anyone, regardless of income.

For more information including a list of available classes, call the U.S. Army Garrison - Miami Financial Readiness Office at (305) 437-2645.

Page last updated Wed May 20th, 2009 at 11:38